US Political Prisoners
US Political Prisoners
We are unfortunately now too familiar with the extrajudicial practice of "rendition" by which the
Likewise, we have become aware of the unlawful detention since 9/11 and again, probable cruel and inhumane treatment, of hundreds of misnomered "enemy combatants" not POWs at the US Naval Base illegally situated on Cuban territory in Guantanamo Bay which, thanks to a biddable Congress, continues despite international protests and the US Supreme Court finding that this is contrary to the Geneva Convention.
But these atrocities must not let us forget our political prisoners at home, and their existence should not only shame us, it should frighten us.
It happens, that when words and images become familiar they lose their bite, so a reminder here about prisoner. To be imprisoned, to lose control of your physical circumstances and to be at the mercy of whatever rules, quirks and cruelties large or small your jailers care to impose is a singular punishment indeed and only imposed by the human animal.
Amnesty International defines a political prisoner as one whose incarceration is politically motivated.
Governments usually deny that they hold political prisoners. The
A not exhaustive survey of the Internet provides the names, addresses, charges, stories, and even birthdays of some 150 political prisoners in the
The intelligence services of our government, and some administrations â€“the present one springs to mind- are clever not creative, but they do learn. The pattern used in the 70s with the prisoners above included heavy media propaganda against them using sweeping calumnies, followed by false accusations of a crime guaranteed to excite repugnance and the press, with a circumstantial connection between the political victim and the crime to lead credence again to the "where there's smokeâ€¦" card that the government plays so well.
The victims named above, as do most political prisoners, have a number of shared storylines. They were effective in their protests against injustice in the system and they were in some way unlike the mainstream, ethnically, racially and/or in lifestyle. Their thin faÃ§ade of legal process, done in the hope of deflecting national and international outcries of human rights violations, included sham criminal charges (often of murder), contrived and/or withheld evidence, and unfair trials, usually in a courtroom or venue "friendly" to the prosecution.
What the government and/or intelligence services have learned in the past thirty years is that a media war can backfire. If something is "news", there will always be some journalists and some part of the public who will want to dig to the bottom of the story and perhaps unearth the truth. This is not desirable.
The administration is forced to allow discussion â€“not freedom for the prisoners yet, but freedom of the press- of prisoners whose stories are already out there, which is embarrassing. The present tactic is to gag the press and if questioned, deny and/or refuse to discuss the issue at all. Ergo, more recent political prisoners do not enjoy access to the "free press" and must rely on the Internet to demonstrate the intrigues used against them and get their stories told.
Like the ill-treated partner of a cheating spouse, the majority of the American public would, deep down, prefer not to know and, for those who want the truth, there is the constant need to burrow for evidence while being stonewalled, ridiculed and told they are misinformed. It takes a great deal of confidence to persist under such circumstances.
Of the 150 or more people known now to be imprisoned in the US for political, not criminal reasons -despite the charges- the case of the Cuban Five  serves as a paradigm of our government´s present machinations to put away political liabilities.
What makes them a paradigm?
Political irritants. The Five had infiltrated
Not Mainstream. They are Cuban, therefore Latino and, even better, three were born outside the
Shocking and trumped-up charges. The Five were accused of the scary charges of conspiracy to commit espionage and endangering
What they were actually doing was monitoring powerful anti-Cuban groups based in
The murder charge stemmed from a loosey goosey and unproven allegation that Gerardo "could have" supplied information to the Cuban government that Brothers to the Rescue planes intended to again fly over
Hostile Venue. The trial was held in
"The prosecution very skillfully represented the small extremist rightwing sector of the Cuban communityâ€¦ even embracing and kissing these individuals right in the courtroom, in full view of everyone here." (Ramon)
Prejudiced Jury and/or Jury Tampering. While the rest of the media in the
Not relying only on the power of propaganda to influence the jury, photos of jurors' license plates were displayed in the news â€“ should someone take exception to their decision and want to find them later.
Surprisingly, after six months of a complex trial, with dozens of testimonies and extensive evidence, the jury needed only a few hours, without asking a single question or voicing a doubt, to reach a unanimous verdict.
The press statement by the jury foreman reveals they were more influenced by prejudices and the deceptive words in the prosecution's closing argument than the arguments they heard over the course of half a year.
Coercion of Witnesses for Perjured Testimony Pressure was brought to bear on the detainees and their families to plead guilty and testify as told. Moral fortitude in such circumstances is very individual and a few acquiesced. The Five did not.
The prosecutors used both subtle and blatant threats. They resorted to blackmailing witnesses under the threat of legally incriminating them if they did not plead the Fifth Amendment. They even went so far as to try to blackmail four-star General Charles Wilhelm, former chief of the Southern Command, to stop him from testifying for the defense.
Suppression of Evidence The defendants and their lawyers were prohibited from viewing "evidence" against them for "reasons of national security."
Government used a highly controversial process called CIPA (Classified Information Procedure Act) to protect classified "sources and methods" from public disclosure. Sometimes, but not in this case, there is an attempt to balance the need to protect classified information with the accused´s right to due process.
Another process, FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that has recently been in the news, was also used in this case The code defines "foreign intelligence information" to mean information necessary to protect the United States against actual or potential grave attack, sabotage or international terrorism. None of which was relevant against the Five, although it could have been used in their favor.
Ninety percent of the validation of the Five's reasons for infiltrating the Miami groups, the more than 40 years of countless terrorist activities against Cuba, and against anyone who advocates a normalization of relations between the US and Cuba, by these very anti-Cuba terrorist organizations based in Miami, were not allowed. More than 3,000 Cubans have died as a result of these terrorists' attacks
Insufficient Evidence for Conviction on Charges. The prosecution based its whole propaganda show on the charge of conspiring to shoot down the planes.
The Court did not allow proof that
After two years of close surveillance, and tapes of most of their conversations, as well as confiscation of a large quantity of materials, the prosecutors could not present a single piece of evidence at the trial to demonstrate that Gerardo Hernandez had conspired to shoot down those planes or contributed in any way to that act. The prosecution based their entire case on pure speculation, on small excerpts of documents, manipulated and taken out of context, and above all on the emotional and sensitive nature of this accusation, due to the loss of human lives.
There was no shred of evidence that the Five had attempted to obtain military secrets, infiltrate government organizations, or in any way endanger national security.
The Five did admit to being "unregistered agents of a foreign government".
Unusually Harsh Sentences When discovered in the
Gerardo Hernandez received two consecutive Life Sentences
Antonio Guerrero received a Life Sentence
Ramon LabaÃ±ino received a Life Sentence
Fernando Gonzalez was sentenced to 19 Years
Rene Gonzalez was sentenced to 15 Years
In addition, in blatant pandering to the
Judiciary Shenanigans On August 9, 2005, after seven years of unjust imprisonment, the Cuban Five won an unprecedented victory on appeal. A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the convictions of the Cuban Five and ordered a new trial outside of
However, in an unusual judiciary move, the 11th Circuit Court agreed to hear the US prosecutors' appeal. A year later, the en banc Court reversed the 2005 Appellate opinion and the Cuban Five remain imprisoned.
Cruel and Unusual Punishment While the Five differed from many political prisoners in that they were not beaten, to the author's knowledge, they have been subjected to out of the ordinary and illegal cruelties.
They were kept in solitary confinement for 17 months from the time of their arrest.
They have been put in solitary again periodically, most notably in the time preceding their appeal, although they were model prisoners.
Lawyer-client visits were severely curtailed and at times stopped altogether, preceding their appeal.
Family visits have been limited, and for two, prohibited. Rene Gonzalez has not seen his youngest daughter since she was an infant as the
Media Distortions. In a reversal of media disinformation in the cases of Mumia, MOVE, Leonard Peltier, and some others, the
In the words of
Ignacio Ramonet of Le Monde Diplomatique, describes the same situation in the case of the Five in
The Five are indeed a paradigm for political prisoner. They should never have been arrested. They were fighting terrorism. Moreover, the scariest part of all is that very few people in the
Are you a political irritant? If you were arrested tomorrow, would we know it?
 Gerardo Hernandez, Antonio Guerrero, Ramon LabaÃ±ino, Fernando Gonzalez, Rene Gonzalez.
Terrorist acts within the